feed me

The Damsel done heard tell that some people who subscribed to the Old School feed haven’t yet switched over to the new feed. If you think this may be the case for you (the Damsel posts a few times a week, so if you haven’t gotten frequent feeds, this may be the case for you), then please do the following;

Visit the Old School at www.mynewoldschool.com.

Look for the tabs along the top and click “subscribe.”

Click the link that says “subscribe via email” and follow the instructions. This should get everything all as it should be. There are also links for subscribing in a blog reader as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The Damsel misses you! Hope to see you soon.

new home for the little old schoolhouse

A while back (oh, a year or so) the Old School moved to its own domain. Things there are lovely.

But wordpress.com only forwarded visitors to the new site for one year, so things look lonely here all of a sudden. There are lots of new posts to see…and the Damsel misses you. So come on over to the New Old School.

Click here.

old school recess

The Old School is getting ready for something exciting. It’s moving to its own domain! Yay!

The Damsel is working hard to make this a smooth transition, and there may be a slight delay before there are fresh posts. Think of it as recess! It won’t be too long, maybe a day or two. The Damsel thanks you for your patience…and hopefully soon, she’ll have the new schoolroom ready for you.

Have fun playing, but don’t step on a crack and break your mother’s back.

homemade carpet spotter

Here’s a recipe making your own spot cleaner for your carpet. Goodness, it’s cheap. Grandma would approve.

Put 3 cups (or thereabouts) of warm water into a container. The Damsel has a lot of quart jars hanging around, so she reached for one of those.


Add 1/2 cup plain white vinegar. The thought behind the “plain white” is that dark vinegar might make a spot of its own.


Now add 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Careful! A certain unnamed person dumped this in all at once, completely forgetting anything about science fair volcanos. That certain person watched in amazement as half her solution bubbled up and over the sides of her jar. Ha ha! That person is silly.

Stir. Yes, it will bubble and foam and so on, giving us all hope that there is something magic going on, because that’s what carpet spots need.


Now the Damsel fearlessly takes you to her living room, where a few mysterious spots have appeared. Grandma would not approve. The Damsel has learned not to ask why or how the spots came to be, because life is already full of enough futility.


Scrub the offending spot with a cloth or scrub brush. Let it dry, then vacuum.

Now the Damsel can hold her head high again.

P.S. the green bracelet seen on the Damsel’s wrist is in honor of the Damsel’s brother in law, who is fighting cancer with a lot of strength and style. Ben’s a frequent reader of the Old School, and if you felt like giving him a shoutout in the comments, it’d bring a grin to that big ole currently-bald face of his.

making gravy–old school pot roast, part 2

There are a few ways to make gravy. This method is just one, and it works best for Old School pot roast because of the amount of water you have to work with.

Now that the meat and vegetables have cooked for several hours in the liquid, you’ve got a nice beef broth. All you must do now is thicken it. The Damsel has seen normally well-adjusted people run crying, faces in their hands, at the thought of making homemade gravy, because they’ve heard their reputation as a cook rises and falls on the ability to make lumpless gravy. Don’t worry. The Damsel will hold your hand, and your reputation’s safe.

Remove the nice, tender slab-o-beef to a platter. Hopefully it’s so tender you’ll have to be careful, or it will fall apart as you move it. Take out the potatoes and carrots, too, with a slotted spoon. Cover them both with foil to keep them warm while you make the gravy. This only takes a few minutes, so get the kids setting the table.

Turn the heat up on the pan that now contains only the broth. There should be quite a bit…4 to 6 cups, maybe more, maybe less. A smaller remainder, like 2 cups, could be caused by evaporation during the long cooking period, but if you have a tight-fitting lid for your pot, most of the liquid should remain. You can add water if you need to end up with more gravy. Spike it with some beef bouillon if you add more than a cup.


While that comes to a boil, put about a cup of flour in a jar. A canning jar will work if one’s lying around handy, but any jar with a lid is fine. Add COLD water at a ratio of about 1:3, (one cup flour, 3 cups water) but please don’t measure. It ruins the magic.

It needs to be cold water because hot water will sort of cook the flour, and that will make it LUMPY!!!!

Put the lid on the jar and shake it. HARD. Shake it until the flour and water are completely mixed.


Position yourself in front of the stove, armed with the jar in one hand and a whisk in the other. When the broth is boiling, shake the jar one last time, take the lid off, and pour a small stream into the boiling broth, while stirring madly with the whisk. Pour in about half of the flour mixture, and stir for a minute or two. The broth should look somewhat gravy-like now, opaque rather than clear. If you’d like it thicker, add more flour mixture, stirring all the while. Remember that it takes a minute or so after an addition for it to thicken. If you get it too thick, it’s okay. You can add water, a little at a time.

Lumps are usually caused from the flour/water mixture being lumpy, so if you’ve shaken that well, you should be good to go. You can use the blender to make the flour/water mixture if the shaking thing isn’t working for you. And, there’s no shame in putting the gravy in the blender, either, if you still end up lumpy. Or use an immersion (stick) blender if you like.

Onion floaties from the onion soup mix don’t count as lumps and are perfectly fine.


Cook and stir for a minute or two to make sure the flour’s all cooked. Add plenty of salt and pepper and taste. Then taste it again poured all over a plate of roast and veggies.

old school pot roast, part one

The Damsel grew up on this–the family’s favorite special-occasion/Sunday-after-church meal. She can never get tired of the yummy stuff.

To make pot roast, you need time. Lots of time. Pot roast needs moist heat over a long period to get tender. Some people use a crockpot, some people the oven…this particular method is done on the stovetop…but they all have one thing in common. Time.

First, heat a little oil on medium in the bottom of your nice heavy pan–a dutch oven or some such.

Plop the roast, fat side down, into the hot pan. It will seem like a strange thing to do, but everything will be okay in the end. After a minute or two, stab it with a fork in order to turn it. Brown it on all sides, or until you’re tired of it.


Pour in some water…fill the pot until water comes about half way up the roast. It will seem like a lot, and the pot will look strange with that great glob of raw meat sitting knee deep in water. But you must trust the Damsel and press on.

Sprinkle in a packet of onion soup mix. The Damsel has been mocked for using this. The mocking individual says it isn’t old school, and perhaps they are right. But the Damsel learned to use this from her mother, who happens to be a great-grandmother, so at some point, onion soup mix becomes old school, right?

IMG_3881Sprinkle it both on top of the meat and around it in the water.

Put the lid on the pot and turn it down low. It will need to just cook contentedly for a long, long time. Like 5-6 hours, depending on the type of roast you’re using. The way you tell if it is done is–scientifically poke it with a fork. By the time you eat, you want this meat tender enough to fall apart. This is the Damsel’s wish.


At some point before the magical falling-apart stage, you will pack the pot with potatoes and carrots. You can do this after a couple of hours of cooking or right away, if you need to leave the house for the day. Push them down into the water when possible…these get extra yummy.

By the time the meat is tender, the vegetables will be too. The house will smell like heaven, and you’ll hear shouts of acclamation as you call the family to the table.

There’s just one more step…making the gravy. Because people think making gravy is tricky, and because this gravy is oh so worth it, it’s going to get its very own Old School post. Don’t worry. It’s not hard.

freezing tomatoes

Guess you can tell what time of year it is here at the Damsel’s cottage, with all the preserving, etc. posts. The end of summer, the harvest season.

So what about freezing tomatoes? Does that work?

It actually works quite well, the main drawback being limited freezer space. And, of course, the possibility that your freezer might go out/the power get knocked off/the end of the world. In that respect canning in jars is, well, safer. But if you have a nice big deep-freeze, and you feel pretty confident about the world continuing in its normal orbit for at least another few months, then freezing tomatoes is a great option.

It’s ridiculously easy. You don’t have to do ANYTHING to the tomatoes except maybe wash them.

Then put them, as is, into a ziplock freezer bag. After they freeze, they’ll be like cold, hard balls. Or cold, hard oval-shaped thingies if they are Romas.

To use them, you can put them in a strainer like so and let them thaw. Or just put them in a bowl. A LOT of liquid comes off these babies. When they are thawed (or even partially thawed) the skins will slip right off. That’s right. Just by freezing them, the skins will slip. No blanching necessary! The Damsel loves this so, so much.

The Damsel also loves that all that liquid drains off, so the resulting tomato goo is Nice and Thick. To get it this thick, you’d have to cook it down for a long, long time. Yay! Even less time slaving over a hot stove!

The other thing that is perfectly wonderful about freezing tomatoes is: if you find yourself falling behind in canning your tomato harvest…or have tomatoes you just can’t use quick enough…you can just throw them in the freezer. Then later, you can take them out and do stuff with them. Maybe it will even be winter by then, and you won’t mind the hot stove so much.

Now, just remember that the thawed tomatoes are going to be mushy, and are fit only to be used in a cooked dish. The Damsel doesn’t want to create any unrealistic expectations here. But these guys are perfect in a marinara sauce, or any other cooked tomato-based dish.

Think about how fun it will be to have both mysterious cold, hard, red balls AND black bananas in your freezer.

make your own “sun-dried” tomatoes

The Old School has moved: http://www.mynewoldschool.com. Please update your bookmarks! Thank ye kindly.

Drying tomatoes is a Damsel-approved method of preserving tomatoes for eating later. She likes doing it because:

  1. No slaving over hot stoves, as opposed to canning.
  2. No peeling.
  3. Takes up way, way less storage space.
  4. The end product is very versatile.

To dry tomatoes, you need only tomatoes and a heat source. Yes, you can sun-dry tomatoes, and you can do them in the oven. The Damsel used a dehydrator because she has one.

Wash the tomatoes well and then slice. Some people peel them first but the fancy kind you buy in the store aren’t peeled, so why should you?

The Damsel used Romas but any kind will do. If you slice in rounds, they will dry faster.

But, if you want the look of the sun-dried tomatoes you buy at the store, just cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise like so. (Large beefsteak tomatoes need to be cut more than just in half, or you’ll wait a very long time for them to dry.)

Cut a shallow slit on the skin side. Goodness! Be careful!

Arrange the tomatoes on the dehydrator screen (or cookie sheet if you’re doing them in the oven) cut side up, and sprinkle with salt, if you like. The Damsel likes.

Turn the dehydrator on, or set your oven for the lowest temperature and leave the door ajar. The Damsel would NOT like to have her oven on in this manner in the summertime, so she’s glad to have a dehydrator. The Damsel has heard of people drying stuff in cars, and she can believe it because hello, cars can be freakishly hot inside. But this is a problem if you need to actually DRIVE your car anywhere.

And…yes…you could dry them in the sun. But you’ll have to fiddle with some way of covering the trays that doesn’t touch them, like a cheesecloth tent of some kind, because bugs will get on them. And you’ll have to bring them in at night, or the morning dew will be dewy on them. Using the sun is terribly old-school, it’s true.

So, get it set up with your hotness of choice. Walk away. It takes a while. The Damsel hates waiting, but there’s nothing for it. After a couple of DAYS the tomatoes look like this. They are done when they are still pliable, but no moisture remains. If you tear one in half, you should see no beads of moisture along the tear. Check them every few hours…take the smaller pieces out as they dry. The circular cuts may dry in only one day.

The dried tomatoes can be stored in glass, ziplocks, etc.  Just something that will keep them cool and dry.

If you want to make them into those fancy “sun-dried” tomatoes in olive oil, like you buy in stores for $$$$, just put these in a pretty jar, add any herbs you like, (the Damsel likes garlic and fresh basil) and then cover with olive oil. Leave for 24 hours at room temperature before using, then refrigerate. The Damsel has heard it’s best to make this up as you need it rather than keep tomatoes in olive oil for months on end. Also, don’t be alarmed if the oil gets solidified in the refrigerator. Once it comes back to room temperature (or you nuke it) the oil will melt and look normal again. Delicious in pasta and pizza!

Stay tuned for more uses. If you have a favorite way to use dried tomatoes, chime right in.

picking and ripening pears

It’s strange to think we need to be taught how to ripen pears. Don’t plants do this sort of thing on their own, without busybody humans getting into their business?

The thing is, pears are one of the only fruits that don’t ripen on the tree/vine. A tree-ripened pear is mealy and mushy. So pears are best picked green. Many folks have come to believe that pears are picked green in order to truck here and there around the country without bruising them. That’s true for many fruits but not so for pears. You gotta pick them mature but green.

So how can you tell if they are mature? Walk up to a suspect pear and tip it so it’s horizontal. If it’s ready, it should detach from the tree. Those pears on the ground might be perfectly fine to use, too, if they’re still hard.

The pears in this picture are all “green,” even the one on top, which got a “suntan” so it has a rosy spot. Despite this the pears are all pretty darn hard.

Fruit produces a natural ethylene gas, which causes it to ripen. The riper it gets, the more gas it gives off, which will cause the other fruit around it to ripen too. So to ripen pears faster, you should enclose them so this gas will be trapped around the fruit. A paper grocery sack works. (Don’t use plastic.) The Damsel is ashamed to admit there wasn’t a SINGLE PAPER BAG in the cottage so she put them in a basket and put a cloth over the top.

If you want to give it a little nudge in the ripe direction, put a banana in with the pears. Bananas give off a ton of that special gas. Ahem.

So now they’ve been in the gas bag a day or two. How do you tell if they are ripe? After all, they’ll still look pretty much the same as ever. Just gently press with a finger near the stem, on the pear’s “shoulder.” A ripe pear will give a little.

They say the best way to eat a ripe pear is naked in the bathtub, so the juice can drip down your chin with abandon. If you try this, the Damsel would prefer not to hear about it.

pressure canning salsa

The Damsel made her first batch of salsa for the year today. There’ll be more.

The Damsel would like to inform you that canning salsa isn’t tricky. The skill level is similar to boiling water. But it ain’t for sissies, either. It takes a while. There’s a good bit of working on your feet, and there’s the heat.

On the good side . . . (pause while the Damsel tries to think of a good side) . . . she only saw one bug during the entire process, and it was a dead spider in the bottom of an empty canning jar. It could have been much worse. There could have been earwigs. It was a completely earwigless day.

And of course there was another good side . . . yummy salsa was made and put away for a winter’s day.

In order to can salsa safely, you have to follow strict recipes and directions. That’s because salsa contains both acid vegetables (tomatoes) and non-acid vegetables (onions and peppers). The balance of acid has to be high enough for it to be safe to do waterbath canning. But the Damsel can’t be bothered with all that. She wants to make salsa her own way, so it tastes the way she likes. And when you pressure can, you don’t have to worry or measure or any of that tedious stuff. When you pressure can your own custom mixtures, you can be safe by figuring out which vegetable in your mixture requires the longest processing time, and then use that time.

But the Damsel is getting way ahead of herself.

First, get the goods. The Damsel stretched forth her hand to her sprog, who went forth to the cottage garden and brought back Roma tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and a handful of hot peppers.

Here’s how to skin the tomatoes: Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Drop in the washed tomatoes. You can use regular or Roma. “Blanch” them for a minute or two and when their skins split, remove them from the water to cool a bit.  Don’t worry if some tomatoes don’t show a split. If most of the tomatoes in the pot have, the rest are ready as well.

See the split? Now the skins will slip right off. Just nip off the stem with a little knife and poof.

Now the Damsel would like to introduce you to her pet, otherwise known as her grandmother’s grinder. It’s very old school. You put stuff in the top, turn the crank, and perfectly diced things come out. Not like some food processors, that end up pureeing the bottom layer and haphazardly chopping the top layer. Perfect. Perfect. Every time. It can never break, it doesn’t need electricity, and it doesn’t have a million weird little parts to wash. Plus it’s fun to turn the crank. The Damsel has known sprog to fight over the chance.

The Damsel loves her pet, and encourages you to adopt one of your own at your first convenience. As far as she knows, you can only buy them at yard sales.

Dice up your tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers in whatever way seemeth you best if you don’t have a pet. Put it all into a large pot. Add chopped cilantro and garlic, if you know what’s best, plus a lot of salt and pepper. Add some chopped hot peppers, like jalapenos, if you like the heat.

Notice the Damsel hasn’t said how much of anything? She just puts stuff in until it has the balance of red, green, and white that she likes. Taste, taste, taste, and adjust. Taste some more. She guesses the end result if probably 75% tomato, 12% onion, 12% pepper, or something like that.

Oh heaven on a chip.

When it’s just right, ladle into canning jars and assemble the two piece lid/ring, screwing the ring on finger-tight.

The Damsel uses pint jars for salsa. Put 3 or 4 inches of water in the bottom of the pressure canner, along with the rack, and heat to boiling. Put in the jars…as many as will fit. Nine pints fit in the Damsel’s ridiculously big pressure canner. Put on the canner lid tight, and let it start to steam. When a plume of steam is escaping from the vent, set the timer for 10 minutes. Then put on the petcock and pressure will start to build inside the canner. When it reaches 10 lbs. pressure (or whatever pressure you’ve been recommended to use in your area) begin counting processing time. Let the canner cool on its own, then remove the jars and CAREFULLY retighten any jar rings that are very loose.

Here they are, the little beauties. Wait 24 hours and check the seal. If the middle of the lid bops up and down, it didn’t seal, and needs to be refrigerated or reprocessed.

Oh, the delights that now await you! Who can wait for winter?